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Programmable Thermostat Operation for Maximum Savings | 5 Tips

by vscontent on October 8, 2015

Of all the things you can do to upgrade your HVAC system, installing and strategically setting a programmable thermostat is one of the best and most cost-effective things you can do. Using your programmable thermostat appropriately can save you about 15% on your yearly energy bill!

programmable thermostat operation rules of thumb

There’s nothing wrong with a mercury-based, analog model, but there are many benefits to using programmable thermostat settings properly. Simply replacing a manual thermostat with a programmable one won’t do anything in itself; you have to adjust the settings to sync with you and your family’s routine.

Before you go out and purchase a brand new “smart” or programmable thermostat, make sure you are getting the right one for your heating and cooling system. Read this guide for selecting the right thermostat or skip the trouble and call the professional technicians at Pacific Air Systems (in the Lakewood/Tacoma area) for quick and easy thermostat repairs and installations.

Programming a Thermostat for Real Savings

Programmable thermostats usually come in four different types: 7-day (different settings for every day of the week), 5-1-1 (same setting for M-F, but different for Saturday and Sunday), 5-2 (same setting for M-F, one setting for the weekend), or 1 week (one setting for entire week).

Here are 5 ways to program your thermostat for maximum energy savings:

  1. Don’t use a pre-programmed setting. Many programmable thermostats come with pre-programmed setting, but these settings almost never align with a family’s actual schedule. The best way to maximize your thermostat savings is to set it manually for your unique schedule. The setback period is the most important – set your thermostat back about 10 degrees for when you are away from the home and asleep at night. You can set many different setback periods throughout the day while always having the option to manually override it. According to the recommendations on energy.gov, you should set your thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and about 10 degrees lower while away from the home or asleep. “By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.” Try to use your setback periods for long periods of time — at least 8 hours for maximum savings.
  2. Avoid manual override if possible. Although it may be tempting to manually override or “hold” your programmable thermostat’s settings to increase your comfort, this will result in higher energy bills. Consider wearing an extra layer or two of clothing before you decide to change the thermostat setting.
  3. If you leave for extended periods of time, use the “vacation setting.” When you are going to be away from the home for longer than a day, remember to use your programmable thermostat’s vacation setting, which places a permanent hold on your settings until it is removed. Make sure your vacation setting is at a constant temperature (warmer in summer and cooler in winter).  Avoid using the temporary hold/comfort setting when you leave for extended periods of time as you will end up wasting a lot of energy. Remember, don’t turn your thermostat off ! We recommend setting your thermostat to 5 degrees higher than normal in summer and 5 degrees lower than normal in winter.
  4. Don’t oversteer your thermostat. This means that you should keep your thermostat at a constant temperature and avoid the temptation to crank it up to heat or cool the home faster. Your HVAC system has the same temperature output no matter what setting you use. When it reaches its setpoint temperature it turns off. If you must override your thermostat temperature, do it by no more than a degree or two; otherwise, you might forget to change the setting back and waste a lot of energy that way.
  5. Consider a ductless mini-split system with multiple thermostats. Although there is a significant upfront cost to switching your home to a ductless zoned system, you will end up making your money back with the energy savings over the years. By having different HVAC zones in your home, you can independently control different temperatures in your home using separate thermostats. This not only improves your comfort, but also leads to major energy savings. Consider HVAC zoning if you have multiple floors and areas of your home that aren’t used very often.

Sample Programmable Thermostat Schedule

The best thing about a programmable thermostat is that once you program the ideal settings for your schedule, you can basically forget about it. Here is an example schedule provided by energy.gov for an example of what yours might look like:

  • 6:45 a.m.: The family wakes up to get ready for the day. The temperature of the house is 68°F; the heat automatically turned on a bit earlier so it would hit this temperature by 6:30.
  • 7:45 a.m.: The family leaves the house and the thermostat is set to 56°F. By turning their thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, the family can save 5% to 15% a year on their heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.
  • 4:30 p.m.: The family starts returning home from work and school. The heat turned back on a bit before this so the house would again be 68°F for their return.
  • 10:30 p.m.: The whole family has gone to bed (bundled in warm pajamas and snuggled under blankets), and the thermostat is again set to 56°F.

If you want to test out the different programmable thermostat settings, ENERGY STAR has a great programmable thermostat tool that you can use to help understand how it all works.

How to Change Thermostat Batteries

If your thermostat runs on batteries, don’t forget to change them out every year! Many units have a low battery indicator, so double-check that your thermostat has the power to function.

Learn how to change your thermostat’s batteries with this video:

For more tips on using your programmable thermostat correctly, contact the HVAC professionals at Pacific Air Systems. We have been serving residents in the Greater Tacoma area since 1984. You can reach us 24/7 at (253) 292-3995!

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